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Push for World Bank reform at COP27 is music to Jordanians’ ears

people with placards and posters on global strike
(Photo: Envato Elements)
people with placards and posters on global strike

Ruba Saqr

The writer has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

COP27 has not been easy for World Bank president David Malpass, whose views on climate change have been blamed for the bank’s failure to finance meaningful climate action in developing countries, like Jordan.اضافة اعلان

Malpass, who was nominated to lead the World Bank by former Republican president Donald Trump in 2019, has received negative press in The New York Times and The Guardian, following his appearance at the climate event in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt.

Last week, a reporter for The Guardian asked Malpass repeatedly, “are you a climate denier?”, ruining months of damage control by the World Bank’s communications department attempting to reframe views that the top official had made on the matter.

Soon after, The New York Times ran an online story with the reminder that “scientists and policy experts have been saying for years that the World Bank is not acting swiftly enough to tackle climate change under Mr Malpass”. The report added: “They point to high interest rates for developing countries, insufficient climate funds and continued financing for fossil fuel projects as evidence that the bank lacks a cohesive climate strategy.”

In an interview with The Guardian on Monday, former US Vice President Al Gore, who had previously called for Malpass to resign, said that fundamental reform of the World Bank could be completed within a year, to help reorient its spending on the climate crisis, as well as to end its contribution to what he termed “fossil fuel colonialism”.

Malpass has come under fire since September, following remarks he had made at a live event organized by The New York Times on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Speaking on stage during a panel discussing “closing the climate finance gap”, Malpass tried to dodge a repeated question by the moderator on whether he believes the “manmade burning of fossil fuels is rapidly and dangerously warming the planet”.

Viewed by many as echoing the talking points of right-wing climate skeptics, Malpass said: “I don’t even know. I’m not a scientist.”

His answer drew major scrutiny from leading environmental advocates, including Gore, who accused the World Bank official of being a “climate denier”.

Gore, who warned against the perils of global warming some 16 years ago in an award-winning documentary, was not alone in his criticism of the World Bank leadership. Jochen Flasbarth, a senior economic official in Germany and one of the bank’s directors, took to Twitter to express concern over “confusing signals” by a top World Bank official that appear to deny “scientific evidence” documenting climate change.

The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said: “We disagree with the comments made by President Malpass.” She added: “We expect the World Bank to be a global leader of climate ambition and mobilization.”
The mounting global push to reform the World Bank and the IMF is music to Jordanians’ ears, as it promises to ease a constant national panic over water scarcity as well as the worsening climate events threatening their livelihoods.
In another panel at the same event in September, US special envoy for climate change John Kerry declined to comment on whether the Biden administration had confidence in Malpass’ leadership. However, he said that multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), needed “to have major reform, (and) major restructuring”, which, he added, the Biden administration was currently looking into.

As a damage control measure, Malpass appeared in several televised interviews over the past few months, where he changed his answer to resonate with the Biden administration’s views on climate change. He told CNN International: “It’s clear that greenhouse gas emissions are coming from manmade sources, including fossil fuels, methane, the agricultural uses, (and) the industrial uses, so we’re working hard to change that.”

But climate advocates were not entirely convinced, and many have renewed their calls on President Joe Biden to replace Malpass before his term expires in 2024.

This week, Australian Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said, in an advance copy of a speech he shared with reporters at COP27, that the “international financial architecture was built for a different time” and needs to be adapted into an “inclusive climate agenda”. He added that there was a moral imperative for these institutions to work with developing nations desperate for cheaper finance to help them adapt to global warming.

Here in Jordan, the World Bank and the IMF got flak over the past few months from opinion writers, parliamentarians, as well as top government officials.

In August, former minister of planning and international cooperation Nasser Al-Shraideh (who is the current deputy prime minister for economic affairs and minister of state for public sector modernization) said that Jordan had reached preliminary agreements with three financing bodies, other than the World Bank, to finance a strategic food security project, adding that they offered the country “more favorable terms”.

In October, Finance Minister Mohamad Al-Ississ called on the IMF to introduce structural reforms to its body, to bridge the gap of wealth and opportunity for middle-income countries (like Jordan). At a meeting in Washington DC, he said the policies of global financial institutions have leaned toward big companies and rich countries, reiterating views long held by many in the country.

Ten days earlier, the Middle East Eye, a London-based online news website, published a report accusing the IMF of “failure to revive the Kingdom’s economy”.The news story was based on a German study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation about IMF’s role in shrinking social protection spending in Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco to safeguard vulnerable communities, low-income citizens and the middle class against major shocks.

The World Bank did nothing over the past three decades to finance projects that curb the impact of climate change on Jordan’s already-poor water resources.

The mounting global push to reform the World Bank and the IMF is music to Jordanians’ ears, as it promises to ease a constant national panic over water scarcity as well as the worsening climate events threatening their livelihoods.


Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.


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